Monday, February 18, 2008

VALA 2008 Report Back: Repositories, research and reporting: the conflict between institutional and disciplinary needs - Danny Kingsley

Original Paper
Danny reported some of the findings she'd made in researching for her Dissertation on barriers to academics use of institutional repositories.
Apparently across the world repository has stagnated at around 15% of all academic output.
This issue became a recurring theme at VALA (with many carrots and sticks being hurled around) but Danny's paper offered a fresh insight because
  1. She isn't a librarian
  2. The information was largely based on one-on-one interviews with academics so, in a sense it's from the horse's mouth - I do worry we don't spend enough time in the stable (we'd probably scare the horses anyway).

She grouped her academics by discipline which highlighted how important it is to know the needs of the groups you're working with. She interviewed a fairly large sample of academics from three disciplines (Chemistry, Sociology and Computer Science) about their information seeking behaviours with a view to how digital repositories fitted with those behaviours.

Information Seeking Behaviours by Discipline



Computer science

Main sources of information and publication target


Journals & monographs

Conference papers

Keeping tabs on developments in the field

Systematic approach (TOCs of key journals)

Specific conferences


Researching new topic

Use databases less general searches (SciFinder) embarrassed by using Google

snowball mixture of text and web, following footnotes, browsing

almost exclusively use Google "can't live without it"

Researchers working in the same sub-discipline

The number of people in my absolute finite area is in the 10’s. In the general area it is in the 1000’s. I keep an eye on about 20 people and there is 10-15

with a broader interest I keep an eye on.

It’s a very small pool in Australia. There are only 5-6 people at the top.

I know most of the people active in my field, they send me their work. About

12-20 people.

Danny discussed the barriers to academic use of repositories and how they might be overcome. Some were simple usability problems like 'how easy is it to deposit something?' and 'is it easy to find the repository?'. Others were more complex like balancing institutional reporting requirements with the academics greater 'loyalty' to a research community than to an institution.

Even more insidious like the American Chemical Society's practice of refusing to publish an item pre-published in a digital repository. She gave an example of an institution finding ways around this sort of barrier in QUT's approach of having links from their repository to RePEc so that the institutional repository doesn't dilute the hits on RePEc which are an important signifier of reputation in the field of Economics.

The overall message was that academics in different fields have different needs and to attract them to using the institutional repository you have to:

  1. Understand their needs faculty by faculty
  2. Offer them something better than what they already have (say the ability to link or embed a dynamically created publications list or download counts)
The problem of getting academics to use institutional repositories was revisited numerous times during the conference. With the RQF 'stick' Danny's call for more 'carrot' was timely.

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